Relating, Creating, Transforming


Our week comes to a close today. It’s a packed day!

First, a visit to the Islamic Society of Greater Valley Forge for jumu-ah prayers.

This particular community is situated close to a Jewish synagogue next door and a Baptist church across the street. This intentional grouping of faith traditions has led to increased awareness, cooperation, and sends a powerful message to the community. Read more here and here.

Before prayers, we headed downstairs to their community hall. Other students from Villanova Univ. were visiting and joined us. After some brief introductions and an orientation, we all participated in the Friday prayers and listened to a message by one of the leaders of the community. It was right on point–he talked about seeking justice for those who have none, and of helping the marginalized and those who are different than you/not part of your particular community. Pretty much what this week was all about.

After prayers we went downstairs for Q&A and pizza. Fabulous conversation. I so appreciate this community!


We were pressed for time, so we piled into vehicles and immediately made our way back into Center City Philly for our visit to Congregation Rodeph Shalom.

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We were greeted immediately by Rabbi Eli Freedman. The place was abuzz with activity in preparation for the Shabbat service. Rabbi Eli brought us into the sanctuary.

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The architecture is uniquely beautiful. Here’s a closeup of where the Torah scroll resides.

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The students had a quick Q&A with Rabbi Eli.


He talked about Rodeph Shalom being a “Reform” Jewish congregation and more progressive in its social stances and commitment to justice for marginalized communities. Rodeph Shalom is also extremely active in interfaith work and a leader in interfaith cooperative projects in Greater Philadelphia, including POWER and PICO.

Rabbi Eli shared a bit about what to expect in the Shabbat service and about the importance/significance of the Torah in the lives of Jewish people.


Afterwards, a few moments to munch on Challah bread and fruit and then it was time for the service to begin. We were greeted with “Shabbat Shalom” as more and more people started to arrive and make their way into the worship space.


After the service, we made our way just a few blocks over from Broad St. to the Mormon Meeting House for the production of Savior of the World, a musical depicting the birth and resurrection stories about Jesus of Nazareth, as told in the Christian Gospels.

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Whew! What a day, what a week! All of us exhausted, we called it a night. The students return to Ohio on Saturday morning. Look for some guest bloggers soon, as some of the students will share their experiences. Thanks for joining me on this journey!

No matter what religion you practice [or if you don’t practice], we are better together. Meeting people who are different than you, honoring and learning about their sacred spaces and practices–will lead you to more understanding and opportunities for personal growth. I also think it enables us to work towards a more just and peaceful world.



Depaul - Homelessness has no place
Day 5 included a visit for service-learning at St. Raymond’s House.

St. Raymond’s, part of Depaul USA, provides permanent housing and case management to help individuals meet their health and life goals. They provide 24-hour care, meals, and assistance. Here are some of the stories from their residents from their wall of fame…


The group worked hard. They started out preparing seeds for the eventual Spring planting in St. Raymond’s outdoor garden.

Afterwards, some of us went outside to prepare the beds for planting–adding mulch and turning the soil. Others organized a library, an office, and did some major cleanup.

What a great place to learn, help, and connect!


The last day is tomorrow. See you then!


At noon we journeyed to Repair the World,

Repair the World

The organization partners with local and community-based organizations like the West Philadelphia Alliance for Children and Broad Street Ministry as it seeks to build a kinder and more equitable city. Repair the World works to inspire American Jews and their communities to give their time and effort to serve those in need. Their aim is to make service a defining part of American Jewish life.

Our group participated in a workshop with Mary Holmcrans, one of their food fellows. She presented information about food security and justice issues, including food deserts and food sovereignty. The students had a chance to reflect about those terms, as well as an opportunity to read some passages from the Torah [mostly from Genesis, Deuteronomy, and Exodus] and to reflect on how these passages speak to the issue of hunger and justice.

After the workshop, we went to Reading Terminal Market for some fun and well, eating.

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Then, a quick stroll up and down South St. to glance at the Magic Gardens and one of the urban gardens in the city that provides fresh produce for those who do not have access to nutritious food.

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And finally, the obligatory run up the Art Museum steps all the while humming the tune to Rocky.

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See you tomorrow.


Our morning and early afternoon was spent at Calvary Center for Culture and Community in West Philly.

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CCCC is housed in the 1906 Calvary United Methodist Church building at 48th & Baltimore Avenue. The Center serves over 5,000 community members yearly, acting as the “town hall” for one of the nation’s most vibrant and diverse communities.

These communities include: the local community association, refugee groups, Twelve Step programs, the historic preservation society, art and cultural activities,peace and social justice organizations, educational classes, and several religious congregations.

CCCC’s mission is to:


* Nurture and support efforts to improve the quality of urban life

* Encourage creative and performing arts that enrich the community

​* Preserve, restore and renew the historic Calvary Church building

Our host Kari was amazing. Kari shared with us a brief history of the community, took us on a tour, and talked about what CCCC is currently doing to make a positive social impact in its community.


After the tour, the groups got to work. They cleaned various parts of the building, helped organize the office space, moved furniture, dealt with trash, and helped recycle old documents.

Clearly, CCCC is engaged in interfaith social justice work for the sake of the common good. This community faces many challenges as they seek to truly be a welcoming, interfaith community, with the neighborhood around them always on their minds.

Tuesday Eve

In the early evening we journeyed to the NW suburbs of Philadelphia for a visit to Bharatiya Temple and Cultural Center, a Multi Deity Hindu and Jain Temple.


I have been to Bharatiya many times and have always had a good experience. Our group consisted of 3 students who identify as Hindu, so that added another layer of meaning to this particular visit.

As always, at Bharatiya, we were greeted with smiles and conversation. First, we met downstairs where the cultural events take place for Q&A. Sorry to be a broken record, but I was really impressed by the students’ questions and reflections. Also, our hosts were gracious, honest, and accommodating. There is no way to cover Hinduism [and Jainism, for that matter] in a blog post. So please explore. And visit temples and talk to Hindus and Jains. This is the way to learn. This site is a great place to start also.

After the Q&A it was time to go upstairs into the prayer space for the Tuesday evening prayers.

Image result for bharatiya temple chalfont paWe were able to participate as we wished in the pujas [ritual prayers]. Everyone got a chance to hear about the various representations of deities in the prayer space and what they mean to Hindus and Jains. While we were walking around the prayer space, priests were leading devotees in chanting and singing, candles were lit,  a bell was rung, and fruit and water were given to those who participated in the puja.

What did I take away from this visit? Well, there was a certain comfort in hearing that to define “what is a Hindu” is not really an important question. One student from Mumbai, India, asked if one could be an atheist and also considered a Hindu. The answer, emphatically, was yes.

The wisdom gained from this evening was that no matter one’s religion [or lack thereof] it is how a person lives their life that matters most.

How do they treat people? Are they loving and caring and compassionate? Are they justice-seeking?


See you tomorrow.


Monday Eve

Image result for LDS church philadelphiaOn Monday night we headed to Center City Philadelphia for a visit to the Church of Latter Day Saints [Mormons]. We started out at their meeting house where many meetings, classes, and other organizational business take place.

There were also rehearsals going on for the upcoming theatrical performance of “Savior of the World.” We met first in the chapel, where members of this community worship.

Our host Amanda introduced other leaders who were present, including missionary couples and executive level leadership in the Philadelphia regional grouping of the LDS church. One such leader shared a bit about how Mormons view the history of their faith and how it relates to the Jewish scriptures [the Torah, the prophets, the wisdom literature], the Christian scriptures [the New Testament], and the Book of Mormon [a historical and spiritual record of the culture and community called Mormons].

Soon after, we moved to another room where classes take place. Other leaders answered questions and shared from their personal experiences as a Mormon. The two groups of students from Ohio Wesleyan and Jefferson had great questions about the structure of the Mormon church and the influence of modern culture, youth retention, etc.

Later on, we moved into another space [like a conference room] and had more interactions and Q&A.

Oh yes, and cookies.

Finally, we moved to the newly-built temple which is only accessible by card-carrying Mormons [those who are practicing Mormons in good standing with the LDS church].

One of the regional leaders shared a bit about the space, its various purposes, and the history of how the temple was allowed to be built in Philly. This is where we were.

Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple - Foyer Entry Computer Rendering

We learned about the spaces in the temple where people are baptized and married.

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Baptismal Font

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Marriage Ceremony Space

All in all, it was definitely a whirlwind tour, but once again, I was impressed by the students’ thoughtfulness, curiosity, and emotional intelligence. Looking forward to tomorrow!


In the morning we began our first service-learning project in West Philly at Ahimsa House.


The Ahimsa House is a center for practices of peace & mindful living and a center for conscious consumerism. Their pillars [in Sanskrit] are:

Ahimsa (non-violence)


Dana (generosity)


Metta (unconditional love), and mindfulness.


The residents of Ahimsa House really take simple living seriously! Check out the amazing house where one of the residents who worked with us currently lives…

And a glimpse inside the main House…


But enough perusing…let’s get to work! And WORK they did…

IMG_0982img_0978.jpgIMG_0986IMG_0989IMG_0991Some people like mulch a lot.

But compost? Well…

Stay tuned for the next post: our visit to the Mormon Temple in Center City Philadelphia.


Our week began with a visit to the very active Sikh community in Upper Darby.

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There are over 20 million Sikhs around the world today. Sikhism began over 500 years ago in the Punjab area of South Asia, which now includes the vast territories of Northern India and eastern Pakistan. Guru Nanak, born in 1469, founded the Sikh religion on the principles of love and understanding and rejection of blind rituals. Sikhism is about devotion to and remembrance of God at all times in life–behaving truthfully, embracing the equality of humankind, standing for social justice, and cooperating with people of all faiths.

As with any religious tradition, a few paragraphs cannot adequately inform you. I encourage you to read on your own or visit a Gurdwara to learn more.

Upon entering the Gurdwara, we were warmly greeted by Jasbir, a leader in the community. We put on head scarves, took off our shoes, and then washed our hands and wrists in the large basin just outside the prayer space. We sat with others in the prayer space, listening to beautiful prayer songs in Punjabi.

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Then, we were led into the kitchen space for the langar meal.


Langar is a community meal that Sikhs offer to all people, free of charge.
It is an expression of equality, as all people sit together on the floor and enjoy the food as one communal experience.

After a great meal we headed over to their educational building for a Q&A session. There were great, curious questions asked.

Off to a good start!

Afterwards, we headed to the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia for the opening workshop. We had the chance to get to know each other a little better and to hear about the Center’s various programs. Rev. Nicole Diroff, Assoc. Executive Director, joined us for that session. I was impressed with the students and their commitment to learning and interfaith cooperation.

Day 2, here we come!

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